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Tödliche Maskeraden: Julius Streicher und die “Lösung der Judenfrage,” by Franco Ruault. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009. 411 pp. $72.95.
Julius Streicher has been increasingly relegated to a secondary role in Nazi Germany’s elite. Yet long before the Third Reich existed, Streicher was surpassed only by Hitler himself as a personification of National Socialism. In that context he merits front ranking, as a/the most important public advocate of Jewish persecution—especially during the years of definition, from the early 1920 to the mid-1930s, when National Socialism was developing the public face and configuring the public appeals that eventually brought the movement to totalitarian power.
Streicher’s repulsive character, unique even among the Nazis, has, however, inhibited comprehensive research into the man and his influence. Rather than attempt a political/ideological biography, Ruault successfully takes a more complex approach. Focusing on the central function of Streicher’s anti-Jewish principles and his insistence on a “final solution” of the Jewish question, Ruault incorporates analyses of Streicher’s approach to nature and his understanding of women’s appropriate role in a National Socialist society.
Ruault describes Streicher’s antisemitism as a “deadly masquerade”—not an essential break with civilization, but as the entering wedge for the reassertion of patriarchy in a modern context. Streicher is presented as a “nature-patriarch,” constantly urging “Return to nature! Then we will again be connected to God and God can once more help us.” Streicher’s thinking was in no sense reactionary. His vision was of a “natural utopia:” homeopathic medicine, healthy family lives, reconnection with the earth, and all of it unobtrusively underpinned by modern technology,the mixture foreshadowing, Ruault suggests, the ecology movement of the 1970s. A major difference was that Streicher’s pseudo-utopia required the subordination of the “feminine” in all its aspects to the masculine, the patriarchal. In that way the past and the future would be organically connected.
The major obstacle to the healthy realization of that development was, predictably, the Jew. Ruault’s interpretation of Streicher’s approach challenges conventional wisdom. Instead of seeking the roots of genocide in Streicher’s work, Ruault concentrates on its surface manifestations. His hostile stereotype is ambivalent. The Jew is the Rassenschander, the race polluter, the fundamental threat to the “mother-and-child” construction that embodies the “pure” German race. The Jew is simultaneously the Doppelganger, the evil mirror-image of true “German” masculinity and patriarchy, whose circumcision is the physical sign of his inner mutilation.
Streicher’s infamous weekly Der Stürmer achieved its decisive success by sexualizing the “Jewish question” in a way that appealed across a deeply divided, increasingly entropic German society. “Race pollution,” unforgettably illustrated week after week in the cartoons of Philipp Ruprecht, became a dominant trope for the crisis National Socialism promised to overcome. Germany, especially in its female aspects, was the victim of the Jew. And at the same time Jews were presented as objects of ridicule. Their appearance, their behavior, their speech, were mocked and scorned. On one level this was a way of diminishing fear. On another it was a means of ripping off the mask of civility, of compliance, which the Jew donned the better to deceive and corrupt. German culture incorporated a strong shame element: shaming the Jew simultaneously broke his power and relegated him to the status of outsider, with neither place nor protection,
It is not necessary to accept completely Ruault’s argument for reconfigured patriarchy as central to National Socialism in order to appreciate his contribution to the movement’s concept of a “people’s community “based on masses, not classes”; it heightened the “masses” aspect by mobilizing Germany’s social periphery—and not least its appealing to those masses at the lowest possible common denominator. Julius Streicher was a man none of his adherents and admirers needed to look up to: a “horizontal attractor,” a mudsill for the New Order. While not easily accessible, Tödliche Maskeraden well repays reader effort.
D. E. Showalter